#The Librarian of Auschwitz by Antonio Iturbe (Translated by Lilit Thwaites)

For readers of The Tattooist of Auschwitz and The Choice: this is the story of the smallest library in the world – and the most dangerous.

‘It wasn’t an extensive library. In fact, it consisted of eight books and some of them were in poor condition. But they were books. In this incredibly dark place, they were a reminder of less sombre times, when words rang out more loudly than machine guns…’

Fourteen-year-old Dita is one of the many imprisoned by the Nazis at Auschwitz. Taken, along with her mother and father, from the Terezín ghetto in Prague, Dita is adjusting to the constant terror that is life in the camp. When Jewish leader Freddy Hirsch asks Dita to take charge of the eight precious books the prisoners have managed to smuggle past the guards, she agrees. And so Dita becomes the secret librarian of Auschwitz, responsible for the safekeeping of the small collection of titles, as well as the ‘living books’ – prisoners of Auschwitz who know certain books so well, they too can be ‘borrowed’ to educate the children in the camp.

But books are extremely dangerous. They make people think. And nowhere are they more dangerous than in Block 31 of Auschwitz, the children’s block, where the slightest transgression can result in execution, no matter how young the transgressor…

Published April 4th 2019 by Bonnier Zaffre (UK) 

~ Review ~ 

It doesn’t matter how many times you read books or watch movies, the stories of Auschwitz never fail to shock. The Librarian of Auschwitz charts fourteen year old Dita’s experience as the custodian of a clandestine library  consisting of just eight books. It is truly a story of courage.

Dita is imprisoned in Block 31 – the family block. Conditions are as horrific and dangerous here as anywhere, and schooling and books strictly banned. But a secret school is in operation, lessons are whispered to the children, and the eight precious books closely guarded over. It astounds me that despite the cruelty, starvation and deplorable and desperate conditions and the certainty that discovery will mean death, people have such courage. Some of the books are written in a language nobody recognises, or are reference books and adult books beyond the children’s understanding. But it was what the books represent that make them so important – knowledge, humanity and hope.

I was concerned going in that this was a translated book, but it didn’t feel so and none of the power or emotion of Dita’s story was lost. There are other people’s stories along the way, and as you may expect this isn’t an easy read. It’s horrifying, shocking and incredibly sad. But it’s also inspiring, humbling and filled with hope. It broke my heart over and over, at points I couldn’t continue to read and had to walk away due to the intense emotions it provokes. It’s a difficult book to review, as I feel I do not have the eloquence to do it justice.  A moving story of human courage during the darkest of times.  Highly recommended to everyone.

( I read an advance ecopy courtesy of the publisher and Netgally)

 

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